Bates Street carries 90,000 cars in and out of Oakland every day, and Eugene Myers drove one of them consistently for weeks when he took his wife to physical therapy in the South Side a few years ago.
Dr. Myers, a distinguished professor and emeritus chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was disturbed by how ugly the corridor looked.
"I kept telling myself, 'I wish it wasn't so ugly,' " he said. "I had always contributed to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and I thought, wouldn't it be great if they would get interested in Bates Street?"
As serendipity would have it, the conservancy had just completed a study to provide ideas to the Oakland Planning and Development Corp. for greening opportunities, and Bates, "a crucial corridor with huge visibility," was one of them, said Judy Wagner, the conservancy's senior director of community gardens and green space.
Dr. Myers proposed to the conservancy "a pilot project to organize a rehabilitation of the slopes [along Bates] so it doesn't look so awful," he said. He made a contribution to get the work started and talked the project up to representatives of Pitt and UPMC, both of which donated to the cause.
As a result, the conservancy got the bulk of what's needed for a $150,000 project to remove invasive plants and replace them with beneficial, native trees; shrubs, and ground plants. Conservancy workers already have spent four months removing plants, including Japanese honeysuckle, said Mark Hockley, a conservancy forester.
The Oakland Planning and Development Corp. is recruiting volunteers to continue eradicating nuisance plants and to plant the first 45 new trees May 8 and 9. To volunteer, email email@example.com or call 412-621-7863, ext. 24.
"We went to the university and UPMC because it wasn't just about ugly slopes," Dr. Myers said. "Bates is an important corridor" that connects Oakland to the Eliza Furnace Trail and the South Side. "There are patients at UPMC who stay in hotels on the South Side," and dozens of international doctors each year who come to Pittsburgh for training that Dr. Myers and others provide.
The project will take three years and move in phases, with plantings at intervals between treatments to kill invasives, Ms. Wagner said.
Oakland Planning and Development is looking for additional funding, contacting property owners adjacent to the work sites and organizing volunteers, who will do much of the ongoing maintenance, said Elly Fisher, assistant director of the planning and development nonprofit.
She said the Bates intersection with the Boulevard of the Allies has been a focus area for the community group and that through the stretch that connects with Bates, the boulevard itself could stand a little love.
"The question of how to turn the boulevard into a real boulevard," with traffic islands in the middle, pedestrian-friendly features and large trees, "is something we have heard from the community for a number of years," she said. "It's a larger vision we'd like to get to, and Bates Street is one step into that vision."
The city owns much of the property along Bates and has granted access. Duquesne Light gave the conservancy permission to work around its substation, said Joe Vallarian, spokesman for Duquesne Light.
Ms. Wagner said the slopes along Bates are "a horrific tangled mess" made more challenging by the foundations of fallen homes and bad soil.
On the steeper side, with little room to work in, "we will look for ways to add fresh vegetation as a screen," she said. New plantings on the other side will include tall trees and an "understory" of trees, with ground-level shrubs and plantings below that.
"We're working so as not to interfere with any future reconfiguration of the road," Ms. Wagner said. "We're only redoing landscaping to offer a visual impact.
"Pittsburgh has a lot of places like this," with bad soil, old foundations and invasives choking out beneficial trees, she said. "We think this could be a prototype project."
Dr. Myers said he plans to join the volunteers and is excited to have sparked the project.
"I think it's another example of how private citizens can get involved in things that the city can't afford or hasn't gotten around to doing," he said. "By making an investment, you can leverage others to do more to make our city as pleasant to live in as possible."